Hamster vs. Gerbil: Which Is Best For Your Child?

Get used to this factoid: Both gerbils and hamsters are members of the rodent family.

Did that make you feel queasy? That’s normal. But hamsters and gerbils are wonderful first pets for kids and can help teach them the responsibility that comes with taking care of another life.

Here are some things to think about when choosing wether a gerbil or a hamster is the best kid pet.


Natives of the Middle East, these solitary creatures are nocturnal and prefer to sleep during the day. Because of that, they may be hard to bond with but evenings and mornings are ideal. The typical lifespan for a hamster is between two to four years of age.

If your child is a light sleeper, we advise keeping the hamster cage in another room because their activity is likely to keep him awake at night.

Cages: You will want to have a wire mesh cage rather than a cute plastic one because hamsters have a tendency to chew their way out of places. If you have only one hamster, the smallest cage should be no less than two feet square. Bigger is better. Fill it with some bedding that isn’t wood based like straw or shredded copy paper and outfit it with a water bottle.

Toys: Hamsters love toys including chew toys. An exercise wheel is also ideal.

Food: Greens, fruits and seeds make up the hamster diet as well as hard dog cookies to wear their teeth down.

Warning Signs

If your hamster isn’t sleeping during the day, seems listless or has a runny nose, she needs vet attention right away.


Believe it or not, there are 90 species of gerbils but the ones you see most often in a pet store are the Mongolian variety. They are a cousin to the hamster but, unlike their relatives, gerbils love company and prefer to live in a pack so having more than one will make him happy. Try for two males or two females from the same family because they will bond easily. Males and females will put you in the pet shop business.

These little guys love to burrow under things so get a cage or an aquarium that is tall that allows them to behave more as though they’re in their natural habitat. Getting some tubes they can burrow into is also fun for them.

Their food and habitat requirements are identical to hamsters with one very important exception: They must have a solid exercise wheel rather than a wire one because they have long tails that can get caught in the wire variety.

For Both

Cages should be cleaned daily of uneaten food and waste. Bedding should be completely changed once per week. A 10 gallon aquarium with a well-fitting mesh cover will be great for either a gerbil or a hamster.

Where You Live Could Make a Difference

If you live in either California or Hawaii, gerbils are not permitted as pets because of the possibility that run away gerbils could grow a colony and cause damage to crops.

Photo Credit:  istockphoto.com

Best kid pet: A hamster or gerbil?


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